To fight aloud, is very brave —
What does it mean to be brave? Emily Dickinson gets right to the heart of things by showing me a different picture of bravery. One with which I can relate, if I’m willing to re-imagine my life. My comments follow her moving poem.
To fight aloud, is very brave –
But gallanter, I know
Who charge within the bosom
The Cavalry of Woe –
Who win, and nations do not see –
Who fall – and none observe –
Whose dying eyes, no Country
Regards with patriot love –
We trust, in plumed procession
For such, the Angels go –
Rank after Rank, with even feet –
And Uniforms of Snow.
Emily Dickinson Poems, Edited by Brenda Hillman
Shambhala Pocket Classics, Shambhala 1995
I live in a country besotted with romantic notions of Bravery. We’re captivated by monuments to those who fell to ‘ensure our freedom.’ Memorials to men and women who displayed Bravery in the face of overwhelming odds.
We pause to honor those who stood or fell on our behalf. As well we should. And yet….Who are the true heroes among us?
Emily’s poem reads like a slow, pensive hymn of remembrance for individuals who fought and fight battles, unseen and unacknowledged. Women and men, girls and boys more gallant than national heroes. Within their hearts they charge daily against The Cavalry of Woe that would take them down in misery, sorrow, despair, pain, agony and defeat.
The poem, written in about 1859, brought to mind Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade,” along with paintings that memorialize a tragic piece of history. Did she have his poem in mind? I don’t know, yet I can’t help wondering.
Her own poem could also be a eulogy for uncounted heroes and heroines who bravely fought their internal enemies. Few, if any, know their names or the stories of their gallant deeds. No public honors, no memorials. Unseen and unsung, they remain anonymous bits of unexplored or never remembered history.
Does anyone notice or care? Emily does, at least in part. She herself is one of these more gallant souls. Her poems remind us of her internal battles, even though we don’t know what all of them were about.
In this poem, Emily’s final stanza lifts up all such bravery for our respect, perhaps also for her personal comfort. She sees not simply one Angel per warrior, but uncounted ranks of Angels processing reverently in soft, snow-white plumes. Their uniforms drop blankets of snow around and over uncounted heroes and heroines. Snow-white flags of honor for every unsung warrior. Those who charged bravely ahead against all odds.
This doesn’t mean the Angels don’t also recognize the bravery of our patriotic heroes. They do. Yet it isn’t because of their visible service to country. Rather, it’s because no one gets a pass when it comes to dealing with the Cavalry of Woe that threatens to undo each of us.
My heart has been an unacknowledged battlefield most of my life. It’s littered with spoils of war—war I’ve waged against my internal Cavalry of Woe. I fought much of it silently, assuming I was a loser. The woes weren’t strange or unusual, but common and everyday. Things like Fear of Harsh Punishment, Getting through Harsh Punishment, Perfectionism, Depression, Self-loathing, Self-doubt, Fear of Abandonment, Fear of Speaking in My Own Voice.
Whether we believe we’re gallant or not, Emily invites us to trust in that cloud of Angel witnesses passing by, clothed in snow-white plumes. Reverently and respectfully they accompany each of us in life and in death. Honoring us as patriots who fought and still fight gallantly on behalf of our true selves.
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 September 2016
Painting by Richard Caton Woodville, Jr.,
found at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charge_of_the_Light_Brigade
Hi, Elouise, Thank you for this blog. I have been feeling very defeated recently – mostly because for some reason I am so tired. But the same amount of work looms in front of me. I have people who come in and volunteer once in a while, but it doesn’t seem to help. That must be because my help must come from the Lord. Depression has always been my enemy. I am fighting it and feeling it a great deal right now. However, I will trust in the Lord no matter what. Thanks for sharing.
Dear Anne, You’re welcome, and a big thanks for leaving this comment. Your weariness may not be linked to your current work load. It could be related to your depression. I pray you’ll get the professional help you richly deserve. I think of you often. It’s hard to believe we’ve known each other since I was 16! I just spent all morning seeing a doctor who practices integrative medicine. I went because my fatigue/weariness of the last year seems to be stuck right now. I’m having some tests that will help determine what’s going on. In the meantime, I’m praying you’ll also find the help you need. Thanks again for reading, and for leaving this comment.
Love and hugs,
Thank you to you, Elouise, and to Emily Dickinson, for reminding us that although most bravery goes unnoticed by mere mortals, it is not so with God, and the “heavenly host”. What an encouraging thought for this quiet, weather-washed day, when perhaps we are more pensive than usual – perhaps better able to receive and ponder this truth. I am going to be on the alert for such bravery in the people around me, and in myself. I don’t always do that, but should…
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I agree thoroughly, Debbie. And will be looking for bravery in others (and myself?) in a new way after reading this post. Thank you, Elouise and Emily.
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You’re welcome, Nancy! Bravery in yourself? Yes, in yourself, too! My 2 cents worth. Elouise
Debbie, Thanks for this comment! Yes, there are such brave women and men all around us–and in us. 🙂 I always think of you as brave–even though you may not think of yourself that way. And yes, God and the angels notice every huge act of bravery. Not huge because it’s so important to the world, but because it’s so important to us as individuals fighting our internal battles. Something as small as asking for help can be worth a gold medal for those of us who prefer figuring things out all by ourselves because we think asking for help is a sign of weakness or lack of faith.
This is a pensive post that makes me a litte sad. Such a lovely woman you are, and yet you say you have been afraid for too long of speaking in your own voice. Afraid of condemnation, judgement…..and all the rest.
How about you just LOVE everything from now on. God loves everything, so that’s all taken care of. So maybe now is a good time to let it out, and let all the fighting end. ((xoxoxox))
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Oh, Fran…What to say? I find this poem encouraging, heartening and thought-provoking. It puts things in a proper perspective for me–inviting me to give credit to that little girl, young woman and adult woman (me!) who bravely faced and still faces down her woes–not just inside, but outside. This gives me courage to continue, and eyes to begin recognizing Angels in my life who, in human form, conveyed and still convey not just God’s unconditional love, but human recognition of me for who I am. Not because of my intellect or outstanding service, but because I’m a human being! Just like everyone else. Not a mistake of history, or a problem child, but a genuine human being entitled to fight back internally and, as needed, externally. The poem also invites me to remember that every person I meet is waging an internal war of some kind. Possibly unseen and unsung.
Your comments always make me think!!! Thanks, Fran. 🙂
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